Legal Status of Research Data

Unfortunately, the legal status of research data has not yet been fully resolved and varies from country to country. Knowledge Exchange, a collaboration between the finnish CSC – IT Center for Science, Denmark’s electronic research library (Deff),  the German Research Foundation (DFG), the British Joint Information Systems Commitee (Jisc) and the Dutch SURFfoundation, published a Report on the legal status of research data in the four Knowledge Exchange partner countries. Additionally, the German nestor (Network of Expertise in Long-Term Storage of Digital Resources) group published a manual which includes a chapter on the German legislation concerning copyright.

Based on these resources the legal situation of research data is as follows (according to German law):

  • There is no copyright on bare facts; therefore, research data are not likely to fall under copyright because they will usually not suffice the two criteria for copyright protection which are defined in the German Urherberrechtsgesetz (Urhg): originality and individuality (§ 2 Urhg).
  • Nonetheless, it is possible that copyright requirements for databases are fulfilled by sui generis database rights (§ 4, § 87a, § 87b Urhg) if a substantial investment took place. Please note that scientific and legal meanings of the term database differ.

If copyright applies, the ownership of data has to be clarified. But even if no copyright applies, third party rights might still be involved and such third party rights can potentially affect how the data may be used or shared.

Further Resources